Sunday, January 31, 2010


The working title for this post was 'Ulrich and Eisenhower'.

I was reminded once again this week of the powerful role preparedness plays in small business planning.

If you're going after outside investments and loans, you will need very specific financial projections based on assigned income and expense assumptions. All enterprises need this as they mature.

For most self-funded startups and newly emerging enterprises these kinds of financial projections should not be your first step. The money stuff will be built in of course, but you need to learn about a much wider range of subjects before you can start your financials.

Our Iowa County Entrepreneur's club this week was amazing I thought. Ulrich and Alex Sielaff from the Sielaff Corporation in Mineral Point shared a detailed overview of how their award winning design and manufacturing skills recently earned them Small Manufacturer of the Year from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Ulrich is rich in intellectual property - 25+ patents - but he is even wealthier in business experience. He described a life of enterprise that has merged opportunity and threat successfully for decades. It was a truly wonderful story that I learned a great deal from.

What also struck me later that if you looked back on the history of how their Sielaff Corporation had to innovate and respond to new market conditions it would not look like a straight line.

Now imagine if you were starting a new business and you were asked to create a formal business plan using the map Ulrich and Alex described. Build in all the zigs-and-zags. Chart out all those shifts and turns the Sielaff Corp. had to take to make opportunities out of change - rapid, unanticipated shifts in products, markets and globalization just to name a few.

That kind of business plan map - for a new or emerging small business - would not go over well with people lending money or investing.

However, there is a great lesson in the Sielaff story for startups and newly emerging enterprises. Ulrich and Alex have created extensive social networks (the face-to-face kind) within their industry. They stay at the leading edge of manufacturing by building deep knowledge and respect for all their stakeholders, and really great design into every part of their enterprise.

The Sielaffs succeed and innovate because they have a wide, proactive knowledge of their field and can change wisely and quickly, as necessary.

Looking backwards, that probably didn't produce the kind of business plan map Ulrich would have written at the beginning of his enterprise. However, what an admirable and successful place it took them.

The Eisenhower quote I bring in often goes like this, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

To me this means that you must thoroughly research as many possible inputs to your endeavor as possible. You will indeed craft a plan based on what you learn. But as the story goes, it's the journey that's more important than the destination.

The plan you design is typically not the one that happens. What will determine if you grow or fade is your knowledge, resources and love of your field. Your ability to survive and grow will depend on your answer to that challenge. But that same challenge is also your greatest opportunity as Ulrich and Eisenhower and countless legions of small businesses can attest. Building your skill and the ability to adapt rapidly and wisely will be your greatest resource.

The strongest advice I can share with any new startup or emerging enterprise regarding business planning is to fill the toolkit with as much knowledge and information about your entire field, not just the specific slice you will compete in. Learn widely about every detail, every subset of the field you will be working in. Create systems to store incoming data. Build in processes to continuously search out new resources.

Take good notes. They will serve you well as your own business map develops. I promise.

More important, Ulrich and Eisenhower promise.

Happy planning. Enjoy the journey.

The Sielaff Corporation, Mineral Point, WI

No comments: